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Identification with Israel Is Declining Among American Jews

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
August 2012

Evidence is growing that identific¬ation with Israel is declining among American Jews, particularly among young people.  
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (June 26, 2012), Rabbi Eric Yoffie, formerly the leader of the Union for Reform Judaism, noted that, “I spoke a few weeks ago with someone who works with American Jewish organizations in planning programs for their meetings and conventions. ‘Israel is out,’ he told me. The demand for speakers about Israel or from Israel has dropped dramatically over the last decade. American Jews are simply interested in other things.”  
Writing in The Jerusalem Report (July 16, 2012), Rabbi Yehudah Rubinstein, who recently moved to the U.S. from England, states that, “Since moving to New York … I have been genuinely surprised to find, speaking to Jewish audiences all over the country, that you cannot assume in any way that there will be any sympathy for, or agreement with, Israel’s struggles and position.”  
Rubinstein notes that, “Actually, I have discovered that identification with Israel often depends on the age of your audience. The older they are, the more likely they are to still be on Israel’s side. The younger they are, much less so. … It would seem that the age of Zionism in the U.S. is roughly 40 years and up. Those below that age — especially teenagers and students — are less likely to side with Israel and more and more likely to be its critics and opponents.”  
Several years ago, writes Rubinstein, “I spoke at a university in Long Island with a Jewish student population of about 14,000. Only 14 had joined the Hillel House. There are a couple of underground student magazines on this campus. Both are rabidly anti-Israel … Both are run by Jews.”  
More and more Jewish voices, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, are being heard expressing sympathy with the Palestinians and criticism of the Israeli government for abandoning traditional Jewish values. On a recent visit to Israel, the South African Jewish artist William Kentridge, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post (Intl. Edition, June 22-28, 2012), saw similarities between Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and apartheid in his own country. He said: “I think there are a lot of similarities … in the daily humiliation of people, the way people are treated in the West Bank at roadblocks, rules about what roads people can use and can’t use. These are very similar to the daily humiliations in South Africa during apartheid. And the rage that that engenders — that South Africa experienced and managed to get through — is here as well.”  
Writing in The Jerusalem Report (July 2, 2012), Anne Roiphe declares: “… I am wondering about how the West Bank settler movement can be so sure that the land they build on is theirs, given by God and returned to them regardless of whose orchard they must possess. The texts are there. The land is given by God to Abraham, to Moses and his descendants. It is taken by the Assyrians and the Babylonians because the Jews could not keep God’s commands and became greedy, harmed the poor, cheated on their sacrifices, lost their honor. The Jews were returned to their land and then exiled again and returned again, this time with fighter pilots and tanks and possibly a great weapon concealed somewhere in the far hills. The story is powerful. It stirs my heart.”  
But, Roiphe points out, “… there are competing stories about the land. There are competing memories of whose grandfather built with his own hands the stones that line the olive groves and provide the foundations for homes. We know that our story is right and best because it is ours. But we also know that someone else thinks the same of their tale, the places their oxen plowed, their carts and their cars passed, their bodies sweated and their children played. The settlers do not see that the other has a right, given perhaps by time, by toil, by memory to his place, and that our story is full of fighting and conquering and taking and killing … And so I am thinking about the book and the words in the book that make some think that the whole land is intended for their possession, who cannot be content with less than everything, who must build a nation that obliterates other claims. I think the book needs us just as we need the book. It needs us to bring what we know now to the words recorded in other eras. It needs us to listen to the calls of the prophets for justice and fairness and loving kindness. The warrior’s cold eye misleads, if it cannot adjust to the changing light.” •

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